Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pigs and Angels, Veils, Liturgy, and Our Blessed Mother

Women wearing veils during prayer and worship is quite new to me as it concerns the Roman Catholic Church. But oddly, as I thought about this practice, it triggered a slew of other issues that I am struggling through with Catholicism. And that's why, and the only reason why, I brought up the issue in my last post. I'm not simply writing about veils - if you choose not to wear one, I will not be upset.
     So what follows is an odd jumble of thought and emotion, and I hope, for your sake, I can tie it together to some degree. It has a lot to do with modernity and Church teaching and parish life in the Catholic Church, and probably not so much to do with veils. It's been a struggle to put down in words all that I'm feeling and this weekend I've erased and edited and started over more times than I care to admit. I'm tired, but let's start.
     At Catholic parishes I've attended, many of the young women dress inappropriately. The same thing happens in Evangelical churches. Inappropriate and immodest dress in church isn't new to me. But last weekend, when I went to a rather staid street festival in a very conservative Southern town it again struck me how many of the women (the majority of younger women) were dressed immodestly. Then I saw a woman, in stark contrast, walk by in a sari and I was struck by the pure dignity, modesty, and beauty of her dress (not the sari itself, though it was beautiful, but of how she was dressed).
     She stood out as particularly feminine. And she did so because she treated her body honorably. She looked more like a woman than the other women at the festival.
     My point here is not to say that women cause me to lust by what they wear and, therefore, they ought to put more clothes on. I'm not saying that. I have learned, though imperfectly, to control my eyes and my thoughts. I am also not saying that women can never relax and throw on shorts and T-shirts and enjoy a festival. But then, T-shirts and shorts are not what I necessarily mean by immodest either.
     My point here is to say, however, that women have lost something because of the sexual revolution, because of their "liberation." They have allowed their own objectification. And men, the objectifiers, are largely to blame for their situation.
     That horse has already, perhaps, been beaten past recognition. But let me tie it in with my thoughts on veils.
     Veiling oneself in prayer, it seems to me, offers a woman dignity and honor and authority. Such an act is subversive in a culture that objectifies women. I say so even while many would point to the hijab, and perhaps especially the burk/qa, and cry subjugation. I don't see the hijab as subjugation, but I can understand that if a woman has experienced oppression and associated it with a hijab that she can and perhaps should, at least for a while, set aside the thing.
     Adding to my thoughts on veils, this past week we celebrated in the Catholic Church the feast days of the archangels and of our guardian angels. So angels have been on my mind. Which brings, of course, 1 Corinthians 11 to mind - that women should cover their heads "because of the angels." How or why a woman covering her head is done for the angels' sakes is not the question here. But according to the Scriptures a woman covers her head for the angels' sakes - for when we worship, heaven is opened and we worship in their midst. What bearing does that have on our lives? Can it be called a cultural teaching? Can a teaching or practice be dispensed with after 1,900 years? Can and should the Church change these teachings or practices?
     Now my comments may say one thing to Protestants and another thing entirely to Catholics or Orthodox. In Protestant circles I may be seen as an ultra-conservative, a fundamentalist extremist, for suggesting that women start covering their heads during worship. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, on the other hand, there are different associations that are tied to the veil - and some are not pretty. But many Catholic women today see the veil as an opportunity to express their devotion to or love for Christ as, perhaps, someone in an Evangelical church might lift their hands in worship. And perhaps the difference arises because it hasn't been that long ago that many (the majority) of American Catholics, and even American Orthodox, have laid aside the veil.
     There is something right and beautiful about women being veiled while they pray. I don't know how to develop that thought past my feelings at this moment - perhaps it's St Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians, perhaps it's the growing awareness of angels, perhaps it's the gold-ring-in-a-pig's-snout. Whatever it is, the veil seems to me to fit the spirit and reality of the Liturgy.
     I do not see a head covering as a statement or a symbol of a woman's subjugation, but rather of her authority, of her emulation of our Mother.
     I'm rambling, quite circuitously, about veils not because of veils so much as my frustration with parish life in the Catholic Church in America. I have paid dearly to become Catholic, too dearly to be happy about Catholic parishes behaving Protestantly. (And that is no attack on Protestants, forgive me if it seems to be.) I want to be Catholic. And I want parish life to reflect Catholic belief and practice rather than rise up against it in protest.
     I don't know if women laying aside their veils is a sign of modernity's erosion on the Church's life and practice. But modernity has eroded parish life and made it something less than it was and something frustratingly less than it could be again. This is what deeply concerns me. Modernity's reach is frighteningly long. And the Church must reject it if she wishes to survive, if she wishes to be the Church.


paul said...

When & why did veils "go away" in the Catholic Church, anyway?

And what IS the Church's official teaching on the matter and has it modified during the 20th century?

Ouiz said...

Again, I love your thoughts on this subject. It is something that has come up in my own life time and time again, so it is interesting to hear a man's perspective on it all.

I find it especially interesting that you mentioned the woman in the sari. I have felt the same way about women dressed in those -- not that they are more modest, but that it is an outfit that just shouts "feminine" in a way that, sadly, many western outfits don't.

That said, I have opted -- due to what I thought the Lord might be calling me to do -- to wear more feminine outfits. I'm not a "homeschooling denim jumper" type... my goal is simply to dress in a more feminine style more often than not. That doesn't mean I never wear pants, or dress my girls in ankle length shapeless skirts, or anything like that!

What struck me more than anything when I started this whole experiment several years ago was that people noticed and treated me differently -- the slight bow of the head from men as I walked past, more courteous treatment, a few more helpful "can I get the door for you?" comments, etc.

My goal is NEVER to look frumpy or to adhere to some Pharisical definition of how long my skirt must be. I'm just having fun looking like a woman, rather than opting for the ever-popular jeans/tight T shirt look...

Scott Lyons said...

Paul, it is my understanding that the Code of Canon Law of 1983, replacing the former Code of Canon Law of 1917, abrogated the need for a woman to be veiled during Mass (though it doesn't forbid it). The Code of Canon Law is different than holy Tradition, though I don't know how. If it were holy Tradition, I don't think it could, rightly, be abrogated. But since the practice is mentioned in holy Tradition (i.e., the Scriptures) I'm not sure how it can be considered less than holy Tradition. That has me a little confused and leaves me in need of someone more learned to offer me some catechesis. I've never investigated Canon Law and know next to nothing about it.

Even though the abrogation came in 1983, I'd have to say that as a child I don't remember women veiling themselves during Mass either - that would have been before 1983. That could be my faulty memory.

My suspicion, though I'm speaking somewhat ignorantly (as always), is that the Canon Law followed practice on this one, with many women probably no longer veiling themselves after the Second Vatican Council - that time of no little confusion in which many (most in America?) dioceses suddenly believed they had the freedom to do or stop doing many things that they had formerly been disgruntled with. Vatican II was closed in 1965. (Another reason for my believing that it happened before 1983 is that the Code of Canon Law also said that women and men should worship separately - now there's a topic for discussion, eh? And I know that didn't happen when I was raised Catholic.)

But now I'm probably sticking my foot in my mouth and most likely will have to offer retraction after retraction.

Scott Lyons said...

Ouiz, I'm glad you are enjoying it. I'm happy that women like yourself are more concerned with femininity while dispensing with frumpishness.

I also don't want to come across as legalistic, though I imagine it's somewhat unavoidable with our definition of legalism nowadays. I don't think a woman needs to veil herself. But I think it's beautiful when it's done. If I were a woman, I believe I'd do it. But I'm not a woman and I have no idea the contexts out of which most women come when confronting the issue. (And each is different.) My wife has no real interest in wearing a veil. But then she was raised Protestant and this is all very, very new to her. And, regardless, that is her decision.

I'm uncomfortable as a man talking about women veiling themselves during Mass, but, as I said, it's only because it has sparked other thoughts in my head that I decided to discuss it.

paul said...

Does the topic ever come up at the parish or is it left to the pope to make such issuances?

Scott Lyons said...

Paul, certainly the pastor of a parish makes decisions for the parish, but he is also under the authority of his bishop. A parish priest could encourage the practice, but would be unable to enforce it since it's enforcement would be contrary to Canon Law - he couldn't make someone wear a veil if the Church has already said that they don't have to.

I wouldn't imagine the Holy Father would be part of such an issuance. He might encourage a practice, but for something like that he would leave it up to the discretion of the bishops' understanding of their culture I would imagine. And perhaps that is what is happening here.

Most recommendations and changes are made by the Magisterium (the Pope and those bishops in union with him) and are then sent to the bishops around the world. They have some cultural freedom as it concerns these recommendations or changes, though at times they go further than with what I am comfortable. There's a balance. For many decisions there is some freedom, while with others there is no wiggle room at all.

For instance, in America and a few other countries we can receive Holy Communion in our hands as well as on our tongues. We have special permission to do so, while other countries can only receive the Eucharist on their tongues.

Anyway, that's my impression. I don't know the processes well enough. You could ask Fr Steve - he would have an infinitely better handle on it than me. Then tell me what he said so I can answer more intelligently in the future.

Honestly, there is so much in Catholicism to absorb that it is difficult to understand it all - if not impossible. I have been busy learning as much about the Catholic Church as I possibly can, but about the specific Hows of the workings of the hierarchy I have little more than a vague idea. It doesn't cross my radar that often. And Canon Law? Like Greek.

Scott Lyons said...

I'm retracting my last sentence - I would just delete it, but I would probably get some crazy flak.

The Church is the Church and will never cease to be so. But modernity can have and certainly has had an ill effect on her. We must reject modernity, because modernity is contrary to Christ.

paul said...


I enjoy your writing and your thought process.

I also appreciate your willingness to describe the workings of the Catholic Church to me. I'm curious and it's interesting to hear your take.

Have been mulling your last statement, about modernity, and am coming up with something a little different.

I don't know that I want to reject modernity.

The thought's not fully formed but it has something to do with Christ working through & using modernity's failings for his glory & our benefit..Christ redeeming even the bankruptcy of modernity...Christ existing timelessly and having power over the past, present & future including temporal modernity, etc. but the thought's not entirely cohesive.

I may have missed the point of the statement about modernity, but I appreciate your invitation to consider it nonetheless.

Scott Lyons said...

Paul, I'd like to hear you flesh out your thoughts some more. What I mean by modernity is that bent to reject and/or reformulate what has been handed down to us from Christ and the Apostles.

So my initial thought is that there is a difference between rejecting modernity (the relativism and secularism within our churches) and God's being able to redeem it. Which is to say, God has even used and will use my sin for my salvation, to unite me to Him - but that is no license for me to sin (Rom 6).

How does modernity look in a Catholic parish? Well it might involve dancing or posting a picture of the Twin Towers as a memorial above the Tabernacle. It might mean your priest checks his watch during confession or discourages frequent confession. It might mean that facing East during Mass becomes unimportant. It could be the priest, in the homily, speaks about how whether we pray to Allah or Jesus is unimportant. It is all those "little" changes, and "little heresies" in some cases, brought to the Liturgy that deny what has been handed down from the Apostles. And I understand that some of these things might seem rather odd as an Evangelical (there is nothing wrong, for instance, with using dance to glorify God - but the place for that is not during the Liturgy), but the Liturgy for Catholics is part of holy Tradition, and to change it to make it more relevant to any particular culture or time is to make it irrelevant. (I believe the same is true for Evangelicalism, honestly - the constant seeking after relevance - but that is a whole other conversation.) In the Liturgy, the Mass, we receive Christ in Word and in Sacrament - and you don't substantively alter this heavenly worship, this sacrifice, you don't make it something that it wasn't or it ceases to be what it is.

I'm not sure any of that makes sense, but it's difficult to explain because the purpose, the point of the Liturgy is really, in many ways, very different from a Protestant service.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm tracking with you. Let me know.

paul said...

Wow, my thoughts weren't really about the form or process of worship or the Liturgy...rather more about considering that God is always bent on reaching out to me and how he seems to use all creation, all human relationship, all cognitive thought, all sin, all miracle, all tradition & even all modernity to do so...if only I am open and willing to see it.

For that reason, I'm not eager to reject modernity, at least not without first considering what Christ might wish to say to me through it.

paul said...

Of course, that doesn't mean to say I should embrace modernity, either...but if I'm seeking to fully embrace Christ and allowing him to fully embrace me, modernity would seem to me to fall into its rightful place, irrelevance.

Scott Lyons said...


Let me try to clearly define what I mean when I say modernism - because I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing.

Pope Pius X says that modernism embraces every heresy - it is the attempt to reason away the supernatural, to compartmentalize the sacred, and to say that the dogmas of the Church can evolve into something different - to say that they are temporal or cultural, for instance. It is that philosophy that makes itself the judge of the Church. Modernism holds court on Christ.

It is not that we cannot be modern men and women, I think we cannot help but to be so. But that's not what I mean here by modernism.

And it is not that God can't use and redeem modernism - even as I've described it. He certainly can and has and will. God redeems. But a broken marriage, though its effects can be redeemed, is still a broken marriage.

Does any of that make sense, or better clarify what I mean when I say modernism must be rejected?

That's not to say you still can't disagree. : )

paul said...

Your added clarification is helpful, Scott. Thank you.

Out of curiousity, what does "rejection of modernism" look like to you?

I'm not meaning really the words or arguments, but the actions being lived out (outside of the Liturgy, if you will).

Scott Lyons said...


Sorry about my absence - been busy.

I think a rejection of modernism is variegated. I was just talking to a college friend who sent a link to a picture of a bonfire where many are saying they saw John Paul II appearing to them on the anniversary of his death. When we hear about such things, we immediately think them silly (not that I or the Church accepts this "sighting" as authentic). But that is one way, and perhaps the biggest, in which modernism has invaded how we view our world - it has taken a crowbar and pulled our lives separate from the supernatural. And the two are of one fabric, inseparable.

So we hear that during the Orthodox's Easter vigil in Jerusalem, an Orthodox Patriarch enters the Holy Sepulcher in the Church of the Resurrection and waits. At a certain moment holy fire flashes from the depth of the Holy Sepulcher and lights the lamp of olive oil. (Sometimes also lighting torches of those waiting outside.) And this happens year after year.

It is tempting, isn't it, to not believe? Why is that? We as Christians believe the most supernatural, ludicrous things possible for people to believe - that God created all things, that God became man.

Doubt is the heart of modernism. It disbelieves, or believes that belief or doctrine can change or evolve. Modernism is, essentially, "Did God really say? ..." in all its bright and shiny sterility. We doubt all things and water down those parts of our belief that the world finds foolish. We want to make it seem more reasonable to everyone. We don't want to call those wacky fundamentalist or pentacostalists our brothers and sisters. We want to make faith, sight.

And it affects families - we see it in broken marriages, our views (and changing views) of sexuality. We see it in abortion. We see it in our society's (even among believers - Protestant and Catholic) general rejection of life as it grows angry with or laughs at large families. I believe that contraception is a result of modernism. It doubts God's gifts are good. Or it wants other gifts besides. It wants life as the world promises it, rather than as God gives it. That's certainly not a popular opinion, but I think it's right.

We do not fast as we ought to. We live lives of comfort rather than of discipline or devotion or penance. Faith becomes a Sunday deal that doesn't interfere with the rest of our life.

Rejecting modernism is certainly not a rejection of science or technology. It does not label what is new as being bad. But it does draw the line between stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research. And that's the line that we always need to be drawing in a battle against sin and modernism.

Scott Lyons said...

By the way, I am not advocating seeing the Blessed Virgin in waffles and potatoes. : )